By Nicole Haase-December 1, 2022
The World University Games are the second-largest multi-sport winter event in the world, after the Winter Olympics and are put on every two years by the International University Sports Federation (FISU) as “a celebration of international university sports and culture.” While the competition is a large and competitive event for countries all around the world, it has failed to gain much traction here in America.
Brendon Knight, coach of the women’s hockey team for the tournament, is hoping that changes in 2023.The US has never finished higher than third in women’s hockey at the World University Games. In 2019, the team placed fourth.
Knight is joined on staff by recently-retired Syracuse coach Paul Flanagan, who Knight coached under, as team general manager. Emily McNamara, head coach at Hamilton college and Melissa Piacentini, Director of Hockey Ops at Northeastern are also on staff.
“I’ve never had a chance in the past to coach in an international event. I saw this as a great opportunity. The more and more I found out about the event, the more and more I got excited about it. It’s really going to showcase the best players, particularly at Division III and give them an opportunity to play for their country,” said Knight.
The rules state that athletes must be between the ages of 17 and 25 and have to be currently enrolled in school or have graduated in the past year. So 2022 graduates are eligible for the team. In the past, teams have been made up of club hockey and DIII players. Knight said the mandate was to field the most competitive team to be able to compete for the ultimate prize. With the NCAA in season, options are somewhat limited, but he has begun to put together a roster of current and former players from DI and DIII.
“I think it’s just a big disadvantage because other countries have treated this event differently in terms of sending higher level players to represent them. It’s no disrespect to the club players (who represented the USA in the past). I think they were put in an almost no win situation in the last few tournaments,” said Knight.
The weight and meaning playing US hockey in Lake Placid meant there has been more of a focus on the teams America will send out. The men’s team, which is also usually made of club players, is going to be made up of DIII players.
Knight said his group will have very limited time physically together before the Games. They’ll meet on Zoom several times to talk X’s and O’s, but they’ll have one three-day mini camp with a few hours of ice time to prepare to play together.
“It’s going to be a challenge to have all these players from different leagues and different levels to come in and all get on the same page. We’re going to try to keep it as simple as possible and really play to the strengths of our roster,” Knight said.
Of course, that roster is only about ⅔ complete. He has five more days to finalize it and then one month to make the team gel. The other challenge is that the team will not have much information about their opponents before playing them. They’ll need to keep things simple because of the short preparation time, but also need to rely on their own game without worrying too much about what strengths or weaknesses the other teams have. It’s a difficult balance.
“We’re going to focus on ourselves, and we’re going to be prepared and we’re going to compete hard and whatever happens happens,” Knight said.
“These players are playing for the country and these players are gonna be ready. From a coach’s perspective, we have no concerns about any of the players. It’s going to be a well-balanced team. We look forward to seeing what they’re going to be able to accomplish.
So far, the roster includes former Yale goalie Gianna Meloni, who holds the program record in goals against (2.11) and is second on the career list with a .921 save percentage is the likely starter in net. Meloni had a stellar senior season for the Bulldogs and made 36 saves in the national semifinal 2-1 loss to Ohio State last March.
Haley Lunny was Providence’s best scorer last season and showed off her 200-foot game as she recorded a team-high 128 shots on goal and 47 blocked shots. Lydia Passolt (Bemidji State) lost much of her final season to injury, but is back on the ice and brings an incredible sense for when and where to take her shots.
Callie Hoff of UW-River Falls won the 2022 Laura Hurd Award as the best player in Division III. She led the country with 26 goals and 41 assists for 77 points and averaged a stunning 2.58 points per game.
Plattsburgh’s Annie Katonka was the second leading scorer in the country, averaged 2.19 points per game and led the nation with 35 goals.
Madi Leidt (Middlebury), Eliza Beaudin (Elmira) and Erin McArdle (Plattsburgh) joined Hoff and Katonka as First-Team All-Americans and will now skate for Team USA in this tournament.
The tournament features six teams (Canada, Czechia, Great Britain, Japan, Slovakia and the United States) playing a round robin tournament, with the top four teams advancing to the semifinal. Knight expects there to be streaming and possibly broadcasting of games throughout the tournament, though those details have yet to be finalized. All women’s preliminary round games will be played at Maxcy Hall on the campus of SUNY Potsdam. Tickets are $10.
Find more about the World University Games 2023 in Lake Placid at Lakeplacid2023.com